How to Unload Your Timeshare Without Getting Scammed
Florida has historically been one of the top states for timeshare ownership. But the state’s attorney general says her office is swamped with complaints about timeshare resale fraud. Since 2009, the AG’s office has fielded more than 19,000 consumer complaints on the topic. Now she’s trying to do something about it.
"The area of timeshares are laden with scams," say Florida attorney Susan Budowski, who represents timeshare owners. "A consumer needs to be extraordinarily careful. They cannot do enough due diligence. One of the largest red flags are unsolicited telephone calls. This is a huge red flag; these call rooms buy lists of timeshare owners and the autodialer starts calling. If you were called by a telemarketer—more than likely it’s a scam."
In October, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and two Republican lawmakers introduced the Timeshare Resale Accountability Act, designed to help protect timeshare owners and clean up the resale business.
Troubles Reselling Timeshares
When money is tight, families try to trim costs wherever possible. For some, that includes making an effort to sell their timeshare vacation property. But timeshares are historically tough to resell.
Enter the timeshare resellers, who prey on desperate sellers with an offer to help them unload their timeshare property. In reality, many of these resellers do nothing more than separate the seller from their hard-earned money. According to the Palm Beach Post:
"Every day, from boiler rooms in Palm Beach County, across Florida and elsewhere, fast-talking telemarketers persuade timeshare owners to pay fees of $1,200 or more to get the ‘title work’ started to sell their timeshare. The owners give the callers their credit card numbers. But when the owners receive the contract, it’s only an agreement to market the timeshare, which usually just means listing it on a Web site. The timeshare doesn’t get sold, and the bilked consumers, who were eager to unload the timeshare, never see their money again."
What Are Your Legal Options?
So what are your legal options if you’re trying to sell your timeshare—and how can you keep from being further victimized?
Every state requires timeshare companies to give buyers a cooling-off period, also known as a rescission period. During this time, you can cancel the contract at no cost. So your step should be to see if you’re still within the legal cooling-off period and can cancel the contract.
If the rescission period has expired but you feel the timeshare company misrepresented the facts or coerced you into signing a contract, you may be able to file a lawsuit to get the contract canceled. A real estate lawyer can listen to your side of the story, review the contract and let you know if you have a valid case.
Some owners practically give their timeshares away in an effort to get rid of them. Of course, for the recipient/buyer, it’s a gift that comes with strings attached. That’s because timeshares come with annual fees attached—anywhere from a couple hundred dollars a year to more than $1,000.
Another option—albeit a drastic one—is to consider bankruptcy. If you are in serious financial straits, consumer bankruptcy would allow you to discharge your debts, including your timeshare. A bankruptcy attorney can help you understand the process and long-term ramifications.
Don’t Get Scammed
Whatever route you pursue, don’t let scam artists take any more of your money. Beware of anyone who promises to sell your timeshare for you but requires an upfront payment, as well as companies that guarantee they’ll be able to get your contract cancelled.
Before hire anyone to help you sell your timeshare, Budowski also suggests you:
- Do an online search to learn more about the company, including a Whois search to see who owns their website
- Check with the Better Business Bureau and state attorney general’s office to see if complaints have been filed against the company
- Beware of any company that asks for money upfront with a promise to sell your timeshare
Jennifer E. King co-authors the Lawyers.com blog.
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